Operation Condor: heroes or villains?

On 28 September 1966 an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight was taken over by 18 heavily armed Argentine nationalists and diverted to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) with the aim of claiming Argentine sovereignty over the islands. Alejandra Gentil analyses ‘Operation Condor’ and its duality as both an act of purported heroism and an act of terror.

The Kelpers, as the Falkland (Malvinas) islanders are known, awoke to an unusual sound on the morning of 28 September 1966. The roar of DC-4 engines circling the islands’ capital of Port Stanley as they attempted to land in crossing winds and poor visibility sparked the curiosity of many in the sleepy capital of this South Atlantic archipelago. To the astonished gaze of bystanders, an Aerolíneas Argentinas aircraft swerved and landed on a racecourse, its tyres becoming deeply entrenched in mud. It was flight AR648, which had taken off from Buenos Aires bound for the southern city of Río Gallegos. It was diverted to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) by a group of 18 young Argentine nationalists, members of the ‘Movimiento Nueva Argentina’ (MNA), a proscribed Peronist right-wing group.

‘Operation Condor’, as it was baptised, was masterminded by Dardo Cabo, a trade union leader and founder of MNA, and his girlfriend, Cristina Verrier, a journalist and playwright. Soon they were joined by other enthusiastic militants – mostly students or trade unionists, all Peronists and members of MNA – who sought to make the question of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) the top priority of the country’s military dictatorship, while at the same time pulling off a publicity stunt that would undermine the regime. Taking over the islands was the final objective; the reasoning behind it being that the ‘heroic’ feat would spur a nationalist wave in Argentina that would force the hand of the president, General Juan Carlos Onganía, into ordering an invasion. Establishing and reclaiming sovereignty over the archipelago was crucial and would play a major part in the operation.

The Falkland Islands (Malvinas) are at the centre of an ongoing sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina. While both hold seemingly legitimate claims to them, the reality is that the archipelago is currently a British overseas territory – a reality which doesn’t sit well with a significant percentage of the Argentine population. Back in the 1960s, however, and up to the 1982 Falklands war, the Kelpers kept a close relationship with Argentina, maintaining trade liaisons, travelling for shopping and tourism, and sending their children to schools in the Argentine region of Patagonia. The issue of their sovereignty only – arguably – became a hot topic in Argentina upon the UN’s ‘Declaration on Decolonisation’ of 1960 and the establishment of the ‘Special Committee on Decolonisation’, which included the question of the status of these islands in 1964.

At the height of the frenzy that this caused in Argentina, a lone aviator, Miguel Fitzgerald, decided to fly a Cessna to Port Stanley, where he landed on the same race track that AR648 would later wallow in, went on to pin an Argentine flag on its fence and hand over a proclamation on the sovereignty of Argentina over the archipelago to a curious observer, after which he took off and flew back to the Argentine city of Río Gallegos. Without a doubt this outlandish incident influenced the young nationalists and helped forge ‘Operation Condor’.